Freedom of Information Act is a call to open governance… Don

Edo state Commissioner for wealth creation, Hon Felix Akhabue

State governments in Nigeria have been admonished to adhere to the provisions of the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act by releasing information or public records to citizens on request.

This submission was made by the generality of speakers at a stake holders forum organized by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Benin city,  to appraise the application of the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act and its impact on national development.

The speakers added that the states being federated units of the country should be bound by the laws that affect the federal government, that there was no need to make laws by the states to domesticate the FOI Act before adhering to its provisions.

In a paper titled, “Salient features of the Freedom of Information Act, Dr. Ekhareafo  Ofomegbe Daniel, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Benin submitted that the Freedom of Information Act is a call to have open governance.

In the case of Edo state, he said, ” My humble suggestion is that as a state, each Ministry should have a desk officer for basic information ; may be somebody who is close to a Director or an Assistant Director who has a knowledge about what is happening in the Ministry. Whatever basic information people need they can provide it. It is not rocket science. If we don’t do this, we will continue on this trajectory of excusing ourselves and we cannot make progress. Progress is what people deliberately take decisions about.” He argued.

In his response, Edo State Commissioner of Wealth Creation, Hon. Felix Akhabue opined that some adjustments need to be made on the Freedom of Information Act to make it more effective.

His words, “This Freedom Of Information Act, I think they may have to do some more jobs on it. My expectation is that we should not expect people to come and ask questions before we give out information. There are so many information you need these days, all you need to do is to google it.

“My expectation is that this Act, suppose to say those information that is mandatory for any government to put on their website. For instance if a government is giving out jobs, it should be compulsory that, that contractor doing those jobs, the amount, the duration, the cost and everything should be so stated. As such, you don’t even need to go to the commissioner, all you need to do is to google it and get your information.

“It should also be part of it that it is mandatory for government whether at the Local Government, State and Federal level to state the number of schools they have, the number of teachers in those schools, the name of principals to be updated from time to time. The number of pupils in schools and the school fees that is payable. If this information Act has stated those things as mandatory, you probably have a ground to sue government when those things are not done.” He concluded.

Earlier, the acting State Director of NOA, Mr. Austine Odile in his welcome address stated that the essence of the FOI Act is to among others ensure public participation, transparency and accountability in governance as well as to stem corruption. He added that the forum was a platform to appraise the impact of the FOI Act on national development.

The programme also featured a health education on Coronavirus pandemic.

The forum was attended by representatives of the immigration service, correctional service, state and federal agencies, NGOs, Civil society groups and the media

By Besiru Enakhimion.